| By New York Tennis Magazine Staff

Mardy Fish is now the top-ranked American in the world, surpassing Andy Roddick who held the distinction as the top-ranked American for a number of years. Fish has been playing the best tennis of his life as of late, and despite a lack of success in years past at the Australian Open, Fish is arguably America's best hope to raise the men’s singles title this year at 2012’s first Grand Slam event.

In 2012, Fish will be looking to improve upon his early round defeats in the last couple of Australian Opens. In 2010, Fish was upset in the first round and Fish fell in the second round to Tommy Robredo of Spain, 6–1, 3–6, 3–6, 3–6 last year. Fish's best result in Melbourne came in 2007 when he was a quarterfinalist.

This is the new Mardy Fish though. This is the Mardy Fish who reached a career high ranking of number seven on the ATP Tour in 2011 and is currently the eighth-ranked men’s tennis player in the world. This is the Mardy Fish who was a quarterfinalist at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships which was his best result in the grass court major. This is the Mardy Fish who won the U.S. Open Series before losing a tough five-setter in the fourth round of the 2011 U.S. Open to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga of France.

Fish has a great all-around game, and on the hard courts of Melbourne, he is a serious threat to match his career-best quarterfinals appearance and possibly advance further. With Roddick slumping, and fellow countrymen John Isner and Sam Querrey not quite ready yet to take it to the next level, look for Fish to be the USA's best hope this year.



On the women’s side, American hopes for the 2012 Australian Open crown will rest on the shoulders of six-time Australian Open champion, Serena Williams, who is trying to return to the top of the women’s rankings after a difficult year of injuries, including a serious career-threatening pulmonary embolism. Serena will return to Melbourne this year for the first time since winning her fourth consecutive title in 2010 after missing 2011 due to injury. A powerful serve and fiery groundstrokes makes Serena a favorite to hoist the tournament trophy once again.

In early 2003, Serena beat her older sister, Venus, to claim her first Australian Open title. Her "Serena Slam," as she called her four Grand Slam victories, made her the fifth woman in history to win all four Grand Slams consecutively.

At the 2005 Australian Open, Serena emerged from the tennis doldrums, as she defeated Amelie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport to claim the title for the second time.

In 2006, she fell out of the WTA top 50 after exiting the Australian Open in the third round. Her slide continued unabated, and later that year, she fell out of the top 100 for the first time in her career.

The 2007 Australian Open women's singles final saw Serena bounce back to her best as she crushed Sharapova in straight sets.

Serena also won the 2008 and 2009 Australian Open titles and 2010 saw Serena's success "down under" continue as she claimed her fourth consecutive Australian Open title.

After battling through injuries in 2011, she returned with an appearance in the 2011 U.S. Open Finals where she was beaten by Australian Samantha Stosur, 2-6, 3-6. In 2012, Serena looks to right the ship and her journey begins January in Australia.



2012 Australian Open Preview

Another year of tennis is now in the books and we say goodbye to the season of 2011. A season in which we saw one of the most dominating displays of tennis by Serbian Novak Djokovic, who racked up three out of four Grand Slam titles. One of those was the Australian Open last January in which he dismantled Great Britain’s Andy Murray in straight sets.

This year’s Australian Open will be a tournament in which we have a lot of questions going in, dating back to a lot of different storylines from the end of 2011. First and foremost, can Djokovic carry his dominant form from 2011 into 2012 and successfully defend his title? It looked as if after winning the U.S. Open, Djokovic had run out of steam. Who can blame him as the number one ranked Serb was 65-2 by the U.S. Open’s end. From thereafter, Djokovic went 6-4 to finish out the year, failing to make it past the round-robin stages of the year-ending championships in London. It was obvious that Djokovic was spent and needed to shut it down until 2012.

Rafael Nadal of Spain struggled this year according to his standards, winning only one Grand Slam, of course on his favorite surface at Roland Garros. The now ranked world number two, Nadal will be entering the 2012 Australian Open on a high note, after just clinching the Davis Cup title for Spain over Argentina. It was apparent as well, that the Spanish warrior seemed to be suffering from fatigue late in the tennis season, hence his failure to make it past round-robin play at the year ending championships as well. Believe it or not, Nadal failed to win a tournament after winning the French Open back in May.

Switzerland’s Roger Federer ironically proved many fans wrong with his level of play at the season’s end, capturing three straight titles in Basel, Paris and London to end his 2011 season on a high note after a set of disappointing Grand Slam showings. Federer was denied a Grand Slam by the likes of Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and twice by Djokovic. However, it was Federer who showed no signs of slowing down at the end of the season, which makes him one of the players to think about as a favorite heading into the Australian Open.
 




The men’s side: The contenders …

Photo credit: Kenneth B. GoldbergNovak Djokovic is your obvious contender heading into the 2012 Australian Open. The only thing that looked to be wrong with Djokovic as the 2011 season wound down was fatigue. Once Djokovic rests up, gets recharged and re-energized, there should be no reason why he cannot repeat as champion. When healthy, focused and motivated, Djokovic was unbeatable and simply too much to handle for anyone in 2011. Even players such as Federer and Nadal, who went a combined 1-8 against the Serb in 2011 could barely slow him down. Look for Djokovic to go far once again down under.



Rafael Nadal has to be the next contender in line as he is hungry for another Grand Slam and a possible shot at the top-ranked Djokovic. Although Nadal faltered in five straight finals against Djokovic in 2011, he seems to be able to make it far into the Slams. One would think the Nadal clan will regroup in the offseason, and come out with a vengeance at the start of 2012 and make a statement. Nadal, who won the Australian Open in 2009, knows he can win on this surface, and will look to regroup and recapture what was once his in Melbourne.



 
The men’s side: The pretenders …

Photo credit: Kenneth B. GoldbergUnfortunately for Great Britain’s Andy Murray, it was another year without a Grand Slam. The closest we saw Murray come to winning a title was at last year’s Australian Open final, but he was quickly dismissed by Djokovic. For Murray, there is a ray of light as the Brit turned up his level of play at the end of the 2011 season with convincing wins over both Djokovic and Nadal. However, Murray faltered in his home country once more, failing to make it out of round-robin play at the year ending championships in London, withdrawing with a leg injury. Look for Murray to make it no further than the semifinals.



Photo credit: Kenneth B. GoldbergJo-Wilfried Tsonga of France will be playing the role of pretender in this year’s Australian Open as well. Tsonga, who had some quality wins in 2011 over players like Federer and Nadal, is still too much of a risk to put him into the contender’s pool. Tsonga can be due for a big win in the quarterfinals or semifinals, but then seems to come up short the round after, such as at Wimbledon 2011.



 
The men’s side: The sleepers …

Photo credit: Kenneth B. GoldbergYou may be wondering whether or not it’s a good thing that Roger Federer is considered a sleeper going into a Grand Slam. Federer, being labeled a sleeper, should pretty much be an oxymoron. For the past seven and a half years, the Swiss legend has been a contender for every single Grand Slam he’s played in. This year, he goes into the Australian Open on a seven-Slam drought streak, hence his status as a sleeper. Again, going back to the way Federer finished off his 2011 season, his chances in Australia to pick up Grand Slam number 17 had to have increased.



David Ferrer needs to be mentioned as well with the way he finished off his 2011 season. The Spaniard showed his fierce competitive play at the year-ending championships in London with back-to-back wins over Murray and Djokovic, both in convincing fashion. Ferrer, who just recently rallied to defeat Juan Martin del Potro in the Davis Cup finals, adds that to his list of quality wins towards the end of 2011. Look for Ferrer to continue his hot streak down in Australia where the Spaniard will be grinding every point out like he usually does.

 




Women’s field wide open going into Australian Open

The 2011 women’s tennis season was one in which we saw the rise of new talent, the resurgence of a legend, and a bunch of conversation on who the real number one in the world is. Each Grand Slam saw a different champion; none of which were won by world number one Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark. Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, who many have forgotten about thanks to a string of injuries at the end of 2011, is the defending champion down under. Clijsters should be healed and ready to go at the year’s first Grand Slam and looks to make a run at her ninth Grand Slam title.

Of all the players in the women’s field, there seems to be a lack of domination such as the type of play we saw from Novak Djokovic on the men’s side. The women’s field saw spurts of greatness from players such as Li Na of China, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, Sam Stosur of Australia and Serena Williams of the United States. Going into the Australian Open, all of these players have a reasonable shot at winning the title. Other players, like world number one-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, should be mentioned in the conversation as well.
 




The women’s side: The contenders …

Serena Williams is hungry for another grand slam plain and simple. Serena was one match short of winning her third U.S. Open title before she was upended by Stosur. After missing most of 2011 due to a list of severe injuries, Serena will definitely be on the prowl for her sixth Australian Open title starting in 2012.

 



 
Petra Kvitova may not be a name you’ve heard of too often, but believe me, you will sooner rather than later. Kvitova, who hails from the Czech Republic came out of nowhere at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships capturing her first ever Grand Slam. She maintained a consistent level of play thereafter, and dominated her way through the year ending championships in Istanbul, Turkey. With that title, the Czech has risen to a career-best number two in the world and will look to continue to do damage at the start of the 2012 season.




The women’s side: The pretenders …

Photo credit: Kenneth B. GoldbergCaroline Wozniacki seems to be buckling under the pressure of living up to world number one expectations. The top-ranked Dane went without a Grand Slam in 2011, failing to get past the semifinals in all four tournaments. Wozniacki, although consistent outside of Grand Slam play, cannot seem to find her best talent when she needs it at crunch time late in a Grand Slam. For that reason, Wozniacki remains a pretender in the women’s field until she can win one of the big four.



 

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus is another up and coming player who cannot seem to capitalize in the late stages of a Grand Slam either. Azarenka is one of the most focused and determined players on the court, but seems to lack the knockout blow. The feistiness that Azarenka possesses will definitely lead her to some quality wins in her career, and perhaps even a Slam, but for now, the competition seems to be too tough for her to break through against the likes of Serena, Clijsters, and Kvitova.



 
The women’s side: The sleepers …

Samantha Stosur of Australia, who finally broke through at the end of the 2011 season by defeating Serena in the finals of the 2011 U.S. Open for her first ever Grand Slam, will be flying under the radar in her native Australia for 2012’s first Grand Slam. Stosur who possesses all the talent there is to win multiple Slams has failed to do so mentally. When on her game, firing on all cylinders, the Aussie is unbeatable. When faced with hardship at a difficult spot in a match, how she reacts will be the determinant in whether she can continue to make a name for herself in Grand Slam play.



Don’t forget about Russian Maria Sharapova who turned up her level of play at the end of 2011 as well. Although she didn’t win a Grand Slam, she came pretty close, and posted a good deal of consistent wins throughout the season. Don’t count the big hitting Russian out of making her way through the field where she’s already done so once before in 2008.